The meaning of meaning

“The Rebbe then elaborated: “All knowledge you’ll ever learn, every experience you’ll have in life, are the circles. They’re not the center. If you don’t have a solid center, you’ll have jagged circles, incomplete circles, many different circles. I sense that you need that center before you start building your circles”.” Joseph Telushkin, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History

It seems an age since I last wrote about social media. The reason I stopped was not borne out of disillusionment but the paradigm had run its course.

If I have one regret, though, it’s that I didn’t connect the dots beyond a slew of platforms and the ability to share a message. Where I wanted to get to was to show how true self, not the self buried beneath ego, might be revealed in the creative act — think Instagram, blogging and Soundcloud. I’m not suggesting that you can’t have egoic tendencies in ‘artist’ mode, but when we do something for the love of it, everything falls away.

Where does that leave me now?

Writing, speaking and coaching?

Possibly, but more than anything else, to invite the question: “Who or what am I?”.

Why?

Because, in the meaning, we’re far more likely to understand the meaning of (our) life than we are to cling to innumerable but ultimately faux dreams.

Ask yourself this question: how many times have you set out on a path only to discover: (a) it was the wrong one; and/or (b) it left you bereft of purpose?

“But, even when such [personal] dreams convert into action, they rarely if ever produce the desired result. They may become goals, but the goals themselves are suspect once one has achieved them. They never deliver the goods our imagination so hopefully promised us. They never give us more life.” — Michael E. Gerber, Awakening the Entrepreneur Within

Of course, it doesn’t stop us from trying. And for many people that’s how they see their lives — a mirage of failed dreams. Even if they do question the intent of their life’s work, something always gets in the way of asking anything deeper and more profound than “What’s next?”.

And on one level that’s perfectly understandable but, on a secondary, perhaps more life-affirming way, it doesn’t leave room for anything remotely spiritual. (As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”)

In my case, and for a long time, I didn’t allow any space with which to question my personhood. If I explored any territory, it was how I could squeeze more out of the day in pursuit of a higher realm. (I know this sounds moronic but that’s how it was: my success credo was measured in units of 6 minutes. Nothing more. Nothing less.)

In the end, it made me bitter and angry. In fact, there were periods where I questioned my sanity to the point where I couldn’t see any meaning to life, despite the fact I had a wife and three children to support and who loved me.

To get off this rank hamster wheel I had to suffer a sudden shock, which not only made me question my mortality but made me realise that life was too important to be given over to meaningless work, no matter the financial consequences. (Trust me, the money is a very important part of the role; for many lawyers, it’s all they’ve got.)

And so I lept.

I didn’t think about it.

I acted on instinct.

I knew that if I stayed shackled to the wheel of money-making lawyering, and despite my best efforts, in no time at all I’d be back where I started. And it would be worse than before: having had my eyes opened to a new spiritual dimension, I’d question things beyond the usual I-hate-what-I-do mutterings, and would be forced to act in a mindstate that wasn’t conducive to making sensible let alone rational decisions.

To say I was intent on looking for let alone advocating meaning in my work would be over egging things. At best I wanted the freedom to be 100% me. To know that there was more to my vocation than working for a living, chasing the money and a pimped up title that didn’t amount to anything more than table decoration.

Up to a point it worked, but I fell victim to the ‘Fatal Assumption’:

“That Fatal Assumption is: if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work.

And the reason it’s fatal is that it just isn’t true.

In fact, it’s the root cause of most small business failures!”

Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

But that’s not entirely true; it would have been more apposite if I’d left one law firm qua lawyer to practice on my own account. Instead, I left to pursue a career, if you can call it that, in the brave new world of digital (media). In my non-knowing I couldn’t really make any assumptions but in hindsight there was still a naivety to my plans. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Actually, it wasn’t digital that fascinated me most but my own unfolding, particularly in the creative arena. You see, having invested all my energies, since age 15, in developing my left-brain skills (despite me flunking on so many fronts), I soon discovered, through a mixture of blogging, podcasting and speaking, that I was incredibly creative. In fact, once I turned on the right-brain tap, I couldn’t turn it off. (At times it scared me to death. It was like I’d found my new best friend, and the energy I felt was overwhelming.)

When I say unfolding, I don’t just mean I’d discovered a new skill set or found a way to channel my creative bent. It was more of case of layers upon layers of emotional baggage being slowly removed, the sort of baggage laid down by years of self-talk predicated upon a dream of someone else’s making.

I found it very painful. There was I thinking I was going to be some hot shot lawyer only to discover it was a pile of horsesh*t. How was it I couldn’t see through my maligned thinking before now? Was I that easily sold on a dream predicated on keeping my nose clean, doing exactly as I was told but never, and I mean never, expressing anything other than a minute fraction of my true self? It appeared so.

I’m sure we’ve all questioned our career choices but this time around, particularly when I had the freedom to explore things previously outside my economic purview, I went much deeper. In fact, it was a case of living into my words like never before.

Take something like the hackneyed phrase, ‘do what you love’. What happens when you repeatedly do that? One thing’s for sure you don’t make a lot of money, and in some cases, as I found out with subjects like blogging and podcasting, you make absolutely nothing. But it doesn’t matter. Not in the struggling artist sense, but it doesn’t matter because when your heart opens, the money doesn’t come into it. Instead, full expression is what’s at stake and you can’t afford to give 50% effort as is so often the case with ‘workers’.

And I kept pressing this unfolding button both in my work, reading and contemplation. I also enlisted the help of a mentor who pushed me into new areas, areas that very often weren’t just alien but made me feel quite uncomfortable.

In the end, they all pointed in one direction, namely the “I” to my “I Am”.

“We become something other than the product of everything that goes on about us that we can’t even begin to explain. We become the center of ourselves. We become the mover as opposed to the moved.” — Michael E. Gerber

Throughout this process I was mindful of my egoic self coming alive to something new, something to distract me and something to brag about; but mainly as a result of repeated practice, I was able to observe any thoughts that pulled me out of true self. I mean to say that when we find something new, and, in my case, life-changing new, we’re all possessed of this pernicious habit of wanting not just to tell everyone but to convert everyone to our cause.

The truth is no one’s remotely interested. I know this from the discussions I’ve had with my wife. If I’ve mentioned self-enquiry and the practice of contemplation once, I’ve mentioned it a hundred times. In the beginning there was a discreet acknowledgment that I’d found something to exercise my curious self, and despite my most valiant attempts to convert my wife to my ways, I never managed to touch her soul. (As I now understand, we’re either drawn to something or we’re not.)

In arriving at this point, you may wonder why I continue to write and speak about true self? In short, because I’ve no choice. Actually it’s stronger than that: it’s because I’m called to do so. By who? I don’t know. By what? I’ve not investigated. But as I heard on the Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer (a wonderful audio programme), just because something is impossible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Do I have a vision for how a world of enlightened, true self people would look? Yes. And it doesn’t look like a bunch of deluded, look-at-me types but instead a group of committed people who see the world connected by a single meme: to express their genius in pursuit of a higher goal. And when I say higher, I do mean to suggest God but not in the white-bearded, old man shape but where everything is one, and one is everything. A connected world where we share a common set of values in pursuit of something that lifts our soul and holds it to the highest ideal — love in pursuit of love. I accept that this sounds way out there but what else is there? Or rather, why else are we here? To be remembered for our toys or our acts of selfish service (very few people do something expecting nothing in return)? I hope not.

If this seems remote from my day to day existence, then I accept that. Right now, I’m still trying to find a path where I can do what I’m called to do, and deal with the demands of being a husband, father and colleague. It’s not easy, but only in the sense of finding the time to share my message and move the needle from dream to vision to some sort of reality. If I had a blank sheet of paper, I’d love to start a retreat centre focused primarily on those people who’ve suffered as I’ve suffered in trying to make sense of their lives in a vocational setting. I could go even narrower and look at lawyers who’ve woken up to the reality that a life of study, sacrifice and hard work isn’t enough to sustain them emotionally, spiritually or, in some cases, financially. Even if I couldn’t get that idea off the ground, I’d like to spend more time talking to and sharing my thinking on true self. At the very least, by exploring our inner terrain we might begin to understand the link between thought, feelings and universal mind. We’ll see.

For now though I’m content to blog, speak and coach. Even if I can’t touch as many people as I’d like, just to touch a few will be more than enough to satisfy my need to help those that wish to awaken, awaken to their true, genius self.